It Would Be a Crime to Cancel Learning Time for Prisoners Pell Grants Lower the Recidivism Rate and Save Tax Dollars

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AS someone who received a post-secondary education in prison, I can see the tangible benefits society receives from Pell grants (federal financial aid) for the incarcerated. Inmates who previously victimized innocent people learn something about criminally deviant behavior; this helps them to later become productive members of society.

While statistics vary, the overwhelming consensus is that post-secondary education decreases the likelihood of continued criminal actions. The national recidivism rate is about 60 percent. Yet only 30 percent of college-educated inmates return to prison. That is a significant decrease - and a statistic ignored by various anti-inmate coalitions.

The debate to end Pell grants for inmates baffles me. Both sides of the political spectrum are opposed to crime. Yet both sides are considering discontinuing funding for a program that lowers the rate of repeat offenses. Is decreasing crime somehow unacceptable in today's political arena? Are cost-effective, successful education programs turning into election year fodder? This makes no sense.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) of Texas is leading the fight against inmate college programs receiving Pell money. She recently said, "Pell grants were sold {to Congress} to help low- and middle-income families send their kids to college. They were not sold for prison rehabilitation."

If Senator Hutchison looked further into the issue she would find that nearly all inmates come from the low- and middle-income families Pell grants are aimed at. Inmates are all too frequently from poor school districts and start life at an extreme disadvantage. College education for prisoners can and does break cycles of generational poverty, and low levels of education. Education is the key - even for prisoners.

It is estimated that inmates will use $40 million worth of Pell funds on college this year. Considering that Pell awards $6 billion annually, surely this is not so much for a program that helps so many disadvantaged persons. …


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